Steeping vs Mashing Dark Grains Revisited – A Beer Brewing Technique

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Some time ago I wrote an article on steeping vs mashing dark grains for all grain beer brewers. That article recommended steeping some dark grains into a separate tea to minimize burnt, harsh flavors. This week we take a look at a simpler method for achieving the same effect.

Steeping vs Mashing Dark Grains

As I mentioned in my original article, mashing darker grains can result in deep roast flavor, it can also result in overly harsh character in some beers – particularly when you are looking for a roast flavor. I compare it to percolating coffee for too long. Leaving dark roasted grains in the mash for 60-90 minutes can result in burnt, harsh, bitter flavors that you don’t get from a short steep in hot water.

In the original article I recommended separating the dark grains, which contribute relatively few fermentable sugars, into a separate tea made with hot water in a grain bag. That way you can steep your dark grains for a more appropriate 10-20 minute period and then simply add the tea to your kettle after mashing and sparging.

A Better Way of Steeping Dark Grains

This year was having dinner with Gordon Strong, who originally wrote about this technique, and he suggested a new method that is much simpler. Rather than preparing a separate tea from the grains, he suggested just adding your dark grains to the top of the mash tun at the end of the mash. This way they get steeped for an appropriately short timeframe, but you avoid the extra work of bagging grains, preparing a separate tea and having to account for additions at the end.

I really like this idea as it gives you full control over the steep time, with none of the mess. You don’t have to change your mash-in schedule – just use the lighter grains for the calculation and honestly the mash out changes very little since the volume of dark grains is small in most cases. At worst you may need to add a few quarts of sparge water to account for the water absorped by the dark grains added.

So that’s a quick way to include dark grains in your beer without adding some of the harsh flavors that can come from mashing them too long. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing.

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